I could blog for pages on this, but lostremote has already done it and included a response from the NPR’s man who was running its Twitter account in the aftermath of yesterday’s shootings in Arizona.
The post includes an extremely smart comment thread (disclosure: I’m in there, too, but I’ll let you decide whether my comments are smart at all), which I encourage you to spend the time to read and comment on.
I will say two things generally on the situation.
On how some media organizations got it wrong: Bad information happens and it will happen again. I don’t know what every news organization’s explanation was for running it was — NPR, at least, attributed it to two government sources — but I do know this: When a source, even an official one, tells you something, it’s always important to ask, “How do you know that?” I’m not saying I’ve always been perfect (I RT’d the news of Rep. Giffords’ death, too, and posted it to Facebook), but that’s my takeaway from this incident.
UPDATE: NPR’s ombudsman writes, “A critical question for each source was: ‘How do you know that?'”
On the (possible?) erosion of trust in the mainstream media: I said to a friend yesterday (paraphrasing), “It’s stuff like this that makes people not trust the media.” I still think that’s true, and I hate that I was part of the spread of bad information, but the audience has a responsibility to ask, “How do you know that?” too. (Again, I was just as guilty.) However, this isn’t an excuse for saying, “See? The media is biased and you can’t trust them!” Like I said: Bad information happens and it will happen again. To make a blanket statement like The media can’t be trusted is to take an easy and uninformed argument to help shape one’s world view. If “the media” can’t be trusted, why? What media can be trusted? And, finally, How do they know what they know?
Every media organization makes mistakes. It’s part of reporting. The good ones apologize, correct themselves and carry on. The takeaway in this respect is to demand that “your” media organization of choice hold itself to that standard.